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Does Training Volume Get A Bad Rap?

When I was first getting into bodybuilding, Dorian Yates was king, and every article you read in any magazine (there was no internet back then!) had to at least mention the dangers of “overtraining” (cue scary music).

Of course I was pretty scrawny back then, and if I knew even a fraction of what I know now, I would have realized that overtraining was the last thing I needed to be worrying about.

I did fairly well, but possibly only because I had started off fairly skinny. It was when I started competing that, although I felt that I knew a lot and had definitely made very respectable progress (I surprisingly did very well in that first show!), I realized in talking to other competitors backstage that I was doing less than they were in terms of volume and frequency. Had my Weider Magazines led me astray?!

Bottom line, is that as I learned more, in terms of actual scientific writings, comparing notes with all of the best competitors (pros in Wnbf and IFBB/NPC), I found a lot of common threads. When I started researching as much as I could about the “old school” greats (anyone who knows me realizes that I put a lot of stock in Bill Pearl), I found the same approaches. So let me throw a few quotes out here, and please take into account the results these people have had with them, OR, the limitations of the studies that seem to always exist supporting both sides of an argument.

“The longer you have in the sport of bodybuilding, if you want to continue to improve, you’ve got to spend more time at it. If you want to get big, thick, coarse, bulky muscles, handle heavy weights, keep your reps low at about 6 to 8, and do numerous sets and you will grow.” - Bill Pearl

Bill%20Pearl

“I NEVER since day one believed in overtraining. I always said it was bullshit! I train volume all day every day”
-Shevon Cunningham (5x NATURAL world champion)

I don’t have a quote, but here’s recent Wnbf Natural Pro Gary Amlinger, another advocate for increased volume as you progress and can tolerate and grow from it as an advanced trainer:

Now, Shevon and Gary compete around the Middle/Lt Heavyweight classes, so they’re not the sub 150 lb bantam weights that some people think all “natural bodybuilders” look like. They guys would easily smoke most NPC competitors I routinely see at contests.

I’m not saying there’s so such thing as overtraining, because every individual has their own recovery ability, and of course how much care they give to their diet and recovery efforts. But, assuming you don’t run yourself into the ground with no breaks, or back off planning ever, even the oft quoted online Brad Schoenfeld acknowledges:

“Research provides compelling evidence that higher volume loads are neccessary to maximize anabolism…The fact that it did not reach a plateau in the volume studied suggests that higher volumes might have led to even greater increases.”

“The prevailing body of evidence from longitudinal studies is consistent with evidence from studies of acute data. A clear dose-response relationship was noted between volume and hypertrophy - that is, higher volumes correlate to greater hypertrophic adaptations, at least up to a certain point.”

“More advanced lifters seem to require greater volumes to maximize muscle protein accretion, perhaps double that of untrained people.”

Now I can easily start pulling all sorts of stuff out of textbooks, or quoting studies, but a simple look at the common understanding and application among the thickest guys back int he 1950’s and the biggest and thickest guys I see on the tested stage today (as well as experienced myself after I switched things up after already 15 years of result producing training!) is all most people need to hear.

S

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I believe as long as “proper intensity” can accompany the volume, the more the better!

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Exactly! Why would anyone think that any trainer seriously pursuing gains in the gym would do tons of half asses sets? -lol

S

I couldn’t tell ya. I almost think there’s a “unwritten rule” or something somewhere that says you can’t have volume and intensity together, if you have one you sacrifice the other. I think, for some reason, a lot of people have this mindset. Maybe it has to do with always being told not to overtrain… dunno, but it’s crazy if you ask me

Hard to know Stu. I’m from a similar generation to you, maybe a bit older. Weider was the biggest bull shitter around. Everything they printed was exaggerated crap about and by steroid users, without telling this truth in the hope to sell their crap supplements.

The war of the ideologies, heavy duty vs high volume conventional training, became marketing devices to sell books, Nautilus machines, and supplements, to naive, eager and impressionable young men. In both cases they omitted the use of steroids as a factor to achieve the results.

All forms of training help to some degree or other. Individuals thrive on certain types of training, not so much on others.

It depends how you define volume as well, are we talking about every bodypart being trained twice a week, with a conventional programme say 4 days a week, or twice a week but with even more sets, over 6 days a week? Or are we talking about 3 times a week, over 6 days like an Arnie pre contest routine?

How you interpret a training philosophy can have a big impact on the results you get from a particular style of training. For instance you could still overtrain on a heavy duty Yates type program. If you took every post warm up set to failure, and beyond, with rest pause, drop sets, or negatives. Training at maximum intensity all the time with one work set can be more hazardous than high volume, and high frequency, not only to muscles and joint but the nervous system as well.

Volume does work, but pushed to the extreme you get diminishing returns, especially for a natural bodybuilder. You need to find out what works for you, and self regulate according to how you feel. Cycle your intensity and or volume, according to your goals and how your body feels.

I definitely agree with atfit
“I believe as long as “proper intensity” can accompany the volume, the more the better!”

I like Bill Pearl and his training philosophies, but he is another old school hypocrite that downplayed the role of steroids for developing his physique.

Knowing what I know, I’m too sceptical to take any “natural bodybuilder” too seriously about their claims. Some people think TRT of 125mg/wk is natural, yet that can make a big difference if they have many years of natty training already under their belt. Same again for some clen or an oral steroid, or sarm during contest prep. Its too easy to get away with, even with drug testing.

I’ve always thought that the intensity to build muscle occurs around RPE 8-10 and have heard other ppl say the same. I don’t consider RPE 8 half assed set. That’s 1 solid rep and probably a grinder left in the tank.

I’m no body builder. The muscle I do carry I gained solely trying to get better at powerlifting and I have a LBM of only about 177lbs at 5 9.

I only point that out for context that when I hear “high volume” I’m thinking 30-40 sets weekly for a muscle group. There’s no way I will recover from that. I could be way off with that assumption of course. I think it’s crazy that you’d have to be either high volume or low volume instead of the right volume for you.

Before that obvious self promotion of a thread I never even heard of volume being “bad”. No coach, be it in the trenches, science based, whatever ever suggested doing 50 sets a session per muscle group. From what I have read it has always been start with the lowest volume usually around 8-12 sets a week per body part and milk it, when necessary add more. To not avoid adding volume in the fear of “over training”

I can not believe that when the goal is to put on as much muscle as possible doing 8-12 sets a week will be enough. Based on what I have read from the pros and naturals competitors I know higher volume is needed and many times hitting muscles multiple times a week. This will also greatly depend on the individuals genetics. If he/she has weak arms more volume may be needed while lower volume is enough to keep legs growing.

What I have heard is people like Lyle Mcdonald say that after 3-5 years of consistent eating/training you will practically hit your genetic limit at which point is it really worth it to do much more.

-* I never got an answer as to which coaches recommend these ridiculously high volume sessions i.e 40-50 sets per work out. Just from my own reading a study by Krieger.

@The_Mighty_Stu how have you adjusted your volume/ time commitment from doing this competitively (and professionally) back to more of a hobby?

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I can attest to this. When I was coached by Stu, my volume increased significantly and I grew into the show. Now, keep in mind, I likely wouldn’t have grown into the show had I been doing more volume all along, but this says something. I also don’t want to repeat the asinine statement many IFBB pros repeat, “Im the only BBer who grows into a show.” (That’s funny. If one guy is the only one, then why do several say that? :joy:)

I don’t dismiss anyone’s results with low volume, to-failure training though. And one of the reasons I liked Paul’s popular thread on muscle growth was that in it he attempted to drive home the importance of effort and what’s really done in the gym by some people.

When I increased my volume, I didn’t do it blindly. If an exercise had 4 sets assigned but on that day I was done after set 2 or 3, I ended the exercise. As said, lower reps call for more sets when not training to failure.

I like that Stu posted pro natty BBers. I think because so few people know of them that many don’t have a grasp on how impressive some are at what they weigh. In Paul’s thread he said he once weighed 195 sub-10 percent bodyfat at 5’11”, natty, not exactly huge” when in fact someone with those stats is very physically imposing and hardly anyone can achieve it! So he wasn’t giving himself enough credit. @The_Mighty_Stu

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Depends how many failure sets you do. Going from 10 sets to 15 sets might add size. Raw strength doubtful and you couldn’t do an extra 5 failure sets without risking overtraining. Doing them 2 reps short probably will add some size in some people.

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The biggest change I think has been time constraints for me as a Father. I don’t want to offer my son as an excuse, but my days of leaving my cel phone with the ringer off because gym time was “my” time are long gone -lol.

I’ve adjusted my split to make sure I hit everything, although not with the same amount of work I used to be able to. That and the injuries/surgeries have taken a few selections off the table. Of course I still understand that stimulating growth doesn’t have to be a decimating experience (which seems to be how some people view it). Haney always said “stimulate, don’t annihilate”, which is a pretty smart way to look at things.

When I worked with Brad @brickhead , he was already a pretty big dude (having trained for over a decade pretty seriously in addition to being a huge bodybuilding fan and a registered dietician!) Honestly, he may have been a little surprised when I gave him the workout I wanted him to start with because the volume was more than he had been doing, but, I knew the nutrition and recovery aspect of our plan would allow him to make the most out of the work he was putting in. IMO that’s where so many people miss the boat. All the variables have to be working together.

A few thoughts in addressing what seems to be the current hot topic:
(I’ve used quotes to scientific texts so no one can say that I “think I know it all”)

1- Studies found no real differences “training to failure at 85% of 1RM and stopping 2 repetitions short of failure at this intensity of load.”

2- “[training to failure] … there is evidence that it also increases the potential for overtraining and psychological burnout”

3- “…reported reductions in resting IGF-1 concentrations and a blunting of resting testosterone levels in a group of physically active men (not the usual untrained subjects you see in most studies cited!) when failure training was consistently employed over the course of a 16 week resistance training protocol.”

and of course everyone’s favorite go-to-study-guy to quote, Brad Schoenfeld, pointing out a fault with a particular study that shows failure training > non-failure training:
“Although the results are intriguing, the style of training does not replicate a traditional nonfailure approach in which sets are stopped just short of all out effort.”
Which is what I’ve been saying for a while,… come a few reps close to failure, get the muscle stimulation result you want, but WITHOUT the crazy post-set fatigue, rest as long as you need, and hit up another set because you didn’t leave yourself in the gutter from just one or two sets.

Just like Haney, Pearl, and countless others have all advised AND shown the results of doing.

S

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This doesn’t get enough attention!!!

Glad you repeated this and I wanted to emphasize it. In Paul’s thread there is a ton of back and forth about volume, proof, this coach, that coach, but no one is talking about the variables.

A college kid with sky high hormones, two classes a day, and no job can probably put in some serious work and recover just fine. Try that same workout as a new father running on six hours of interrupted sleep and working 40 hours a week and you might struggle. So many people ignore this aspect of training and expect a cookie cutter approach to the podium.

Stu, I saw you cite some CSCS credentials and material. I’m happy to see that someone with some true experience still believes in the NSCA. I have a CSCS and the new TSAC-F certs. I don’t coach anyone but myself, but I’ve kept the certs to give myself some “street cred”. I’ve tried to start some sort of wellness program with my department and I know I need some fancy letters behind my name to get them to listen to me. Well, I thought I did. They still haven’t listened LOL.

I didn’t read any of the muscle mags. I graduated high school in 2003. I learned all of my lifting stuff from school and my big brother. I say big, but I really mean older. I outweigh him by about 50 lbs even at my new lean physique of 210. I got into the Exercise Science program in college and started soaking up everything I could. Certain things about my athletic background finally made sense. There was a good reason that I preferred repeat sprints over distance running. There was a reason that I could jump higher than others my size, but couldn’t keep pace during a mile run (I still consider a mile to be long distance!).

Anyway, I’m distracting myself. The reason I brought up the CSCS credential is that I recall reading recommendations for training volume in one of the NSCA books. I learned to base everything around the 30 rep range per exercise (3 x 10, 4 x 8, 5 x 5, etc) and to do 60-120 reps per week for larger muscle groups and 30-60 reps per week for smaller muscle groups.

You could say all of my training volume, frequency, and even my rest intervals has been driven by my “formal education”. I can’t say that it failed me, but it might not have been “optimal” (I’m beginning to hate that word). I know that text books and the gym have conflicting success stories.

And, finally, to my actual question for you. How do you feel about the NSCA guidelines? Do you think there’s any merit to them? Do they line up with what you’ve personally done and seen? (60-120 reps and 30-60 reps per week, respectively)?

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This is what I have mentioned numerous times in „the other thread“:
Nutrition, i.e. what happens in the kitchen, is about the largest game-changer in body compositioning!
All hope is lost if your hormones are out of wack, making nutrition and hormones equally important, putting training into a minimal game-changer!
(Just head over to the training log section and look at the progress that’s made) or simply speak to your endocrinologist!

As far as the volume discussion goes I was wondering along the lines of other sports!
How come Ice-skaters have massive legs?
How come Indoor-line cyclists or Mountainbikers have them legs so jacked?
What about Swimmers?
Look at the difference in arm size of tennisplayers!
Rowers!

All these sports surely don’t have low volumes of muscle work!

If you don’t recover, you are bound to run into problems!

Elsewise I‘d say: Balls to the wall!
And the research points to 8-12 sets being enough. But certainly not the only way!

How great it is to see Stu keeping this topic alive!!!

Did 80 reps on lat pulldown and cable rows. 25-30 first set, 30 sec breaks. Took 5 sets to get there. Will add weight when I can do it in 3 sets.

I’ve read so many different “rules” or “guidelines” (forget about opinions) over the years that what I’ve realized is that you always have to consider them as just a starting point.

I’ve probably ranted plenty about audiences blindly following articles written by people who have no crazy world class results of their own, who are putting forth their “latest and greatest” program that is going to address countless people with a very wide spectrum of individual variables in terms of how they’ll respond, BUT… for someone first starting out, it’s probably more common than not to really have no idea what a well planned out training program should look like beyond the little illustrative pictures on the sides of gym machines showing you what you should look like if you’re doing it correctly.

Add to that the concept of someone who is seriously untrained. I don’t mean that they played around but never got serious, I mean a serious lack of coordination and dexterity - untrained! You take an average middle age guy off the street and put an empty bar on his back and see how comfortable he is just going through the motion quatting without any weight. For people who have never used their body in such (or close to such) a manner, what you or I would laugh at or think they were kidding about can actually be a reality.

So,… when I read these different texts (I’ve got several from different certifying organizations), and it all just seems laughable, I remind myself that 99% of the people seeking help and advice in the gym are not hardcore competitors (and of that other 1%, I’d say half of them are delusional or just lying in some manner -lol).

The only time I took the 30 reps for anything guideline was in doing pullups. I was in my first year training, and my friend had taught me pulldowns, but I noticed that No one in our crummy state college gym really had a great back. Lee Haney always said that there was a big difference in pulldowns and pullups, so I set my sights on being able to do a pullup. No matter how many sets it took, I would do 30 at the start of every back session.

I quickly grabbed a NSCA book off my shelf this morning as I ran out the door to drop my son off at day camp (I hang out and do client work in the local library while he’s there most days), and here’s a relevant snippet:

“Although various types of resistance training programs have been shown to elicit muscular hypertrophy, certain ranges of exercise intensity and volume appear to be optimal… Generally, moderate to heavy loads (70 to 85% of maximal strength for a given lift) and high volume (8 to 12 repetitions for three or four sets) are recommended for maximizing hypertrophy. Programs using these intensities and volumes for each exercise stimulate greater acute increases in naturally occurring anabolic hormones than higher load, lower volume regimens do.”

Now, as much as this is pretty straight forward in explaining what most successful bodybuilders do (despite what some writers say without actually given names and examples), it’s also aimed at people who aren’t training and/or competing at the highest levels, nor does it address the added synergistic benefit of nutrition and recovery!

S

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I’m just wondering what is the range (in terms of sets per muscle group per week, and per workout) that you find to be effective. Mike Israetel has said that “MRV” will typically be in the range of 15-30 sets, with most people being closer to 20. James Krieger did some sort of metanalysis (I linked his IG post in Paul’s thread) where he found that hypertrophy peaks around 8-10 sets in a workout.

That stuff all makes sense to me, what I don’t get with those guys is some of the shitty studies they did and still stand behind, plus starting a mesocycle with all sets 3-4 reps short of failure sounds like an extended deload.

I think it’s so independent on the lifter. If you are a genetic freak, you can probably get away with really low volume. But I think for all of us mortals you need volume over time. It doesn’t need to be day in day out or week after week, but over the course of months and years that volume will add up.

For example, when I started lifting my legs were weak as SHIT. All my upper body movements were increasing but my legs were sticks and just squatting 5x5 twice a week wasn’t enough. Once I started squatting 3x a week and including assistance like lunges, ghr, rdl, leg press, etc, my legs really started getting stronger. I was probably doing over 300 reps on my legs week in week out for a few months for them to grow. But my upper body I got up to to a 225 bench just using a basic 3x5 progression. Didn’t need much to make it get stronger or grow.

I view lifting no different than any other sport. If you want to get better at something you have to do more of that thing. Obviously there is diminishing returns, but that won’t happen for YEARS. Yes you should listen to your body and going from FB to U/L to Push/Pull probably helps to give your body a bit more rest in between.

I mean you have to make due with your limitations and schedule, but you should be concurrently pushing both volume and intensity. I use double progression to do this in a way that doesn’t burn me out. But when we speak of volume doesn’t mean you need to do 10x5 or 10x10 or something like that. Volume to me just means you need to do more work whether that be through the main lift or the assistance.

Most people don’t need to worry about all this stuff and just go fucking lift lol. You’ll find out pretty soon if you are doing too much or not.

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Perhaps you didn’t need to squat at all… :wink:

I find that the single leg stuff is brutal. It makes squatting more fun, and it takes less time since you can train both legs at the same time.

I started thinking about time under tension and failure yesterday. I read a comment in a DoggCrapp article/post that the only reason to curl a weight up was to lower it down slowly. The eccentric portion of the lift is what causes the damage that leads to repair/growth.

Well, I’ve been doing 350 sets with slower eccentrics than usual (3ish seconds). This week I’m switching it up. I’m still going to failure on my sets but I’m using a more traditional tempo. My elbow has been hurting and I began to wonder about time under tension. Slower eccentrics > more time under tension > more stress on my joints. Is this a good thing? According to the often cited research, training to failure at 30 reps and 8 reps produced similar results. I didn’t read the study so I don’t know about the tempo used, but I’m pretty sure 8 reps to failure is a lot less time under tension than 30 reps. That raises the question, is time under tension all it’s cracked up to be?

It’s strange. In theory, using lower weight should reduce stress on your joints. But I’m finding that by decreasing weight and increasing time under tension that my joints feel more strain. Perhaps a regular tempo in a moderate rep range (like 8 reps) is better for my body. Whatta ya know, that’s right in line with this:

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Kind of a derail, but just yesterday I read that there is “some evidence” that eccentric focus or Slow Lowering builds the muscle at the distal end, or the “joint” end. And concentric focus or “regular” lifting builds up the middle of the muscle.

Interesting to hear a real life dude talk about it.

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I’m following the Juggernaut AI Powerlifting program right now. The accessories never go above an 8 RPE and usually start at a 6-7. I cut a set out and increase the RPE so I’m not just doing work for the sake of doing work.

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